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The Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth George Alfred Townsend

Letter III: The Murderer

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Washington, April 27th.

Justice is satisfied, though blinder vengeance may not be. While the illustrious murdered is on the way to the shrine, the stark corpse of his murderer lies in the shambles. The one died quietly, like his life; the other died fighting, like his crime. And now that over all of them the darkness and the dew have descended, the populace, which may not be all satisfied, may perhaps be calmed. No triumphal mourning can add to the President's glory; no further execration can disturb the assassin's slumbers. They have gone for what they were into history, into tradition, into the hereafter both of men and spirits; and what they were may be in part concluded. Mr. Lincoln's career passes, in extent, gravity, and eventful association, the province of newspaper biography; but Booth is the hero of a single deed, and the delineation of him may begin and be exhausted in a single article. I have been at pains, since the day of the President's obsequies, to collect all valid information on the subject of his assassin, in anticipation of the latter's capture and death. Now that these have been consummated, I shall print this biography.

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The elder Booth in every land was a sojourner, as all his fathers were. Of Hebrew descent, and by a line of actors, he united in himself that strong Jewish physiognomy which, in its nobler phases, makes all that is dark and beautiful, and the combined vagrancy of all men of genius and all men of the stage. Fitful, powerful, passionate, his life was a succession of vices and triumphs. He mastered the intricate characters of dramatic literature by intuition, rather than by study, and produced them with a vigor and vividness which almost passed the depicting of real life. The stage on which he raved and fought became as historic as the actual decks of battle ships, and his small and brawny figure comes down to us in those paroxysms of delirious art, like that of Harold, or Richard, or Prince Rupert. He drank to excess, was profligate but not generous, required but not reliable, and licentious to the bounds of cruelty. He threw off the wife of his bosom to fly from England with a flower-girl, and, settling in Baltimore, dwelt with his younger companion, and brought up many children, while his first-possessed went down to a drunken and broken-hearted death. He himself, wandering westward, died on the way, errant and feverish, even in the closing moments. His widow, too conscious of her predecessor's wrongs, and often taunted with them, lived apart, frugal and discreet, and brought her six children up to honorable maturity. These were Junius Brutus, Edwin Forrest (though he drops the Forrest for professional considerations), John Wilkes, Joseph, and the girls. All of the boys are known to more or less of fame; none of them in his art has reached the renown of the father; but one has sent his name as far as that of the great playwright to whom they were pupils; wherever Shakspeare is quoted, John Wilkes Booth will be named, and infamously, like that Hubert in "King John," who would have murdered the gentle Prince Arthur.

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The Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth
George Alfred Townsend

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